EA Talks Day One DLC Success, 2010 Strategy

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In a conference call Q&A after their earnings report, Electronic Arts executives waxed about recent successes and strategies with downloadable content.

EA CEO John Riccitiello shared the motivation behind their inclusion of paid DLC in all their titles this year. "We sort of initiated our approach here originally with NBA Live with Dynamic DNA almost a year-and-a-half ago. In every case, what we've seen is a very positive response from the consumer and in each case, particularly with Dragon Age, a strong pickup in revenue per user. By and large, they like the extra content and we think it's a strong positive move...we've got similar strong PDLC programs with all of our titles this year."

COO John Schappert embellished on the success of Dragon Age DLC. "We had downloadable content in addition to the pack-in content, if you will, available for purchase on day one. The first week, we did over a million dollars in sales on that title - that's just with DLC, obviously." With numbers like that it's understandable why both Schappert and Riccitiello strongly back paid downloadable content programs in 2010.

"We think that the attach rate or usage [of DLC] is about at 70%, above all units sold," Schappert continued, "so it's obviously much higher for those online registered users."

Paid DLC wasn't the only type being discussed. EA has also recognized the value of rewarding those who purchase new copies of their games with free downloadable incentives. Mass Effect 2's online-enabled Cerberus Network is the most recent and notable example, allowing a gamer with a brand new copy access to downloadable extras. Those who rent or buy the game used have to pay extra for access to the DLC in a clever attempt to encourage more gamers to buy titles new.

EA believes that its DLC plans are a good fit for its current strategy of fewer, higher-quality titles. "Consumers are buying top titles and playing them longer," explained Schappert. "[DLC is] a great incentive when they first buy the title, but it also teaches them and shows them that there's additional content online and gets them used to that whole ecosystem in the marketplace."

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 8, 2010 8:03 PM

    Having DLC available on day one isn't something to brag about. "Hey, we cut these features from the game so we could charge you extra for them. We could have included them in the shipped product, because they were already done, but we'd rather milk it. Go us! We're so innovative!"

    I don't have a problem with charging for extra stuff. As long as it really is "extra".

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      February 8, 2010 8:07 PM

      IAWTP

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      February 8, 2010 8:09 PM

      With Bioware at least, the day one DLC is free if you buy a new copy. Even without the DLC they give for free, their games never have a piece of the plot missing or anything.

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      February 8, 2010 8:30 PM

      you know, if the sales weren't there for it it wouldn't be profitable for them to do it. maybe that content would be included in the game but most likely the content wouldn't even exist in the first place to be "excluded".

      in the end it sells so it's a good strategy. the video game industry is a business and not an "everybody feels good" charity

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        February 8, 2010 8:38 PM

        Still, it's sad that the business of video games has taken a far higher priority than the art or science of video games. Mountains of money aren't good enough anymore.

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          February 9, 2010 8:13 AM

          the studio you work for is going to be closed down without mountains of money so you just make the DLC

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      February 8, 2010 8:43 PM

      DLC is the reason I don't buy games right when they release anymore.... I'll just wait till they have a bundle deal for less money.

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      February 8, 2010 8:48 PM

      If it's DLC that is given for free to users who buy new copies, I'm kinda fine with that.

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      February 8, 2010 9:02 PM

      No. You are wrong, and people need to stop with this. Game development doesn't work like that, and it can't. The game is "done" months, if not in some cases up to a year, before it actually ships. There is QA, cert, localization and marketing to be done; in the case of a game with a multiplayer component there will be months of shakedown before it ever even gets a public beta. During that cert/final publishing process, a team can work on items that later become DLC, but there are no features that are "done" and just left on the table for later; those DLC elements have to go through the same cycle (QA, Cert, Localization, Marketing) before THEY can ship. Every time someone says this, they just look ignorant about the very industry they are trying to "improve" by giving "feedback."

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        February 8, 2010 9:18 PM

        Everyone please read pingfreud's post. Unlike PrawnWanton, he knows what's up.

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        February 8, 2010 9:23 PM

        I don't buy it.

        It may be true that these elements follow a different development timeline, but it ignores the fact that these DLC agreements are often signed prior to the game's actual development; other developers have explicitly stated as such (that they owe so many units of DLC, etc.) These could have been planned and executed from the beginning but are separated off using the development timeline you described.

        What we are essentially seeing is a gradual price hike on games, by shifting part of the content off behind a paywall. The base price remains the same, but added features and content that should have been in the original development cycle are shifted into another category. They're tricking people into paying another $15 for an added hour or two of content. (And it's working wonderfully. =P )

        Games are no longer $50. They're $80. And like music, they're tied to that person, forever, and god help you if you lose your account/DRM key/service account or otherwise.

        I hate to sound all gloomy, but the days of buying a plain disc and expecting to keep it for years are almost dead, and these people are doing it in.

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          February 8, 2010 10:06 PM

          I don't completely disagree, but you're not "right" here either. The DLC is not free to create; it has development costs, just like the actual game content, and thus it is not a price increase in the game - the DLC has to cover its own costs. It is actually more like a partial sequel, a replacement "episodic content" that never seemed to catch on before. The idea that these are "base" things that get "shifted" is patently bogus, for the reasons I cited above; if developers were in the habit of shipping genuinely incomplete games, as you DLC doomsayers continue to ignorantly believe, they'd be rightfully called out for it in reviews. You could make an argument that a lot of the music games that have shipped in the past four years were grossly incomplete, yet those continue to sell and do gangbusters DLC business. And if you keep saying idiotic things like consumers are being "tricked" in to participating in this "scheme," when it is actually informed customers buying more of what they like, you're going to have to provide some concrete examples. You can start with naming one game that later shipped DLC, and without that DLC the game was unplayable or functionally incomplete.

          The DRM/ownership issue is a separate conversation entirely.

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            February 8, 2010 10:57 PM

            i like your style ping. respect knuckles.

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            February 8, 2010 10:57 PM

            I'm half with you and half against you. I don't disagree there's separate charges for the DLC to be developed but seriously releasing the DLC a week or two afterwards is a little silly.

            DLC in my mind is to keep the game fresh. To introduce new content to the user who has purchased your game and (more importantly) to attract new users to your already aged original content.

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              February 8, 2010 11:01 PM

              The DLC in the case of Bioware has been used as an incentive to buy the game new. That makes sense to me. Paid DLC a week later sounds silly to me too, I guess I just haven't noticed anybody doing it.

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            February 9, 2010 12:23 AM

            I don't completely disagree with you either, but I don't think the value is there. You're right, I haven't seen a game ship functionally incomplete, but I can't imagine that the price of DLC is simply to cover it's costs. Even adding in a respectable profit margin doesn't account for it. These are far from episodic or partial sequels. If I'm lucky, I get a few hours added gameplay out of it.

            No one is being tricked in so far as they're being misled, but I sincerely believe that the the bar is being lowered as far as what passes for quality these days. You could buy an expansion pack in the past for $20-30, and add-on what more or less amounted to a second title. You pay half that today and get an hour or two of content or a colored gun or piece of armor. (Mass Effect "Bring Down The Sky" was a good example.)

            That doesn't mean DLC cannot be good; I personally though Fallout 3's DLC has been of excellent quality. But this has seemed to be more of a rarity.

            My issues with this are not necessary the state at the moment of the DLC scene, but my fears of where it is leading. I admit, my issues with this are a bit more broader than it's value. Charging $10-$15 for a new NPC to talk to or a few inventory trinkets is frankly, insulting. And I'm tried of trying to keep track of what content is in what pack because every retailer signs their own agreement as to what's available. And if I want to by used, then I may very well be looking at buying an incomplete game. (And let's not even get into Gamestop's recent shenanigans with their "exclusive" 30-day game mode access. Bullshit. Everyone got the shaft unless they bought from them.)

            My Fallout 3 DLCs were the last I bought. No more, this stuff is getting ridiculous.

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              February 9, 2010 7:13 AM

              I'm going to agree with you that the store-specific and platform-specific DLC is bullshit, big time; I should not have to buy from a particular store to get the same DLC that a friend did. I think publishers and developers are experimenting right now, like they did with "episodic" releases, and the business model will settle down as both publishers and customers find a comfort zone.

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        February 8, 2010 10:56 PM

        Then way has Day0 paid DLC only started in the recent past?

        Sounds like a money grab to me.

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          February 8, 2010 10:58 PM

          They used to go on vacation. Now they make DLC. :(

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          February 9, 2010 7:04 AM

          See, this is where I start to see red.

          A "money grab?"

          I got news for you - video games are a PRODUCT, designed to make MONEY for the people who create them! It isn't a fucking HOBBY for them, it is the paychecks and careers of thousands and thousands of people worldwide. How is it a "money grab" - a robbery of some kind - if they get PAID for the product they create? If video games are too expensive for you, don't buy them, a pack of playing cards is cheaper and doesn't RROD. The Day0 DLC is there to do two things - reward early adopter customers, who are the most loyal and who become "evangelists" for your product, and to prevent the game from showing up on the "used" shelf too soon. I don't think this is a good strategy to deal with the rental game market; forcing their hand rather than negotiating is not good business. But if a rental place can pay $50 for a game and then rent it out 50 times, that is sales stolen from the publisher, so at some point the piper has to be paid.

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            February 9, 2010 12:19 PM

            *sigh* more apologists.

            I will pay fair value for a game, but i still reserve the right to moan if i feel they are not providing a complete game in order to extract more $ from me to complete the game I bought.

            And who mentioned rentals?

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        February 8, 2010 11:09 PM

        Maybe you didn't read the last part of my post. If DLC is actually something extra, then that is fine and dandy. But cases games are shipped WITH the content, you just have to pay to unlock it (See: SF4 costumes), are where it gets sketchy.

        Yes, obviously they are in business, and their job is to make money. Doesn't mean I have to agree with all their decisions.

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          February 9, 2010 8:16 AM

          then don't pay for them. nobody has a gun to your head telling you that you won't have fun with your purchase unless you buy the DLC. if nobody buys them it's not worth it for the company to make that kind of DLC available. the fact of the matter is that it sells, it doesn't ruin the game for people that don't want to buy it and you aren't forced to buy it at all

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        February 9, 2010 8:15 AM

        you can see in some developer interviews that there are even people dedicated to a separate DLC team working on the content.

      • reply
        February 9, 2010 8:21 AM

        ^^^^^^^LISTEN TO THIS MAN!^^^^^^^

        the force is strong with him

    • reply
      February 8, 2010 11:13 PM

      It's strange. Expansion packs make sense to everybody... episodic gaming was appealing to many people... but DLC, which falls somewhere inbetween, remains controversial. Half the DLC I can think of is actually free. The stuff Epic did with UT3, TF2, Killing Floor, The Warhammer 40k 2 updates, Burnout Paradise. The other stuff is reasonable... the Sins of a Solar Empire expansions, the Empire Total War unit packs are like 3 bucks, the Fallout 3 adventures.

      It's like the process is just too fluid for it to seem like you're buying a separate product.

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        February 9, 2010 12:16 AM

        There is too much generalization in this. Its hard to compare these three trends of content extension in games.
        The problem I think people have with DLC is that the DLC so far has, for the most part, not shown value. DLC packs so far have shown themselves as small bits of content that were, or should have been part of the original release, but are withheld simply to gain a few extra shekels.
        It can be argued that this is mostly just perception, but when it comes to commerce, value is whatever it is perceived to be. In this case, expansions and even episodic gaming have pretty concretely shown value successfully, "DLC" has not.
        Obviously, this is not always the case, and what I am saying here is only generalization.

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          February 9, 2010 3:12 AM

          The two questionable examples I have... Dragon Age Warden's Keep is the only option for the console players to get storage. That's BS. As a quest it was fleshed out but an hour long. It would make sense if it was 10 dollars and adding to a five hour game... but for an eighty hour game that's really stretching it for the pricetag, should have been less. Obviously on the PC version modders make whatever people want so I didn't feel like Bioware was holding storage hostage. Borderlands pulled the same stunt though, which is sly for a loot based game. It could not have been an oversight. And Borderlands as far as I know is a closed platform to modders, so I do resent them to the extent that I enjoyed their game and expected the feature. It would be as simple as putting a box somewhere. You could patch that so easily.

          I'm not saying it's all bubblegum and lollipops, but the objectionable DLC seems like a drop in the bucket to me. I just played through the Fallout miniexpansions and they were terrific. Especially Point Lookout, which had a new land mass with new quests items weapons and enemies. Broken Steel was an answer to the feedback that people didn't want the game to end with the story quest so they fixed that and upped the levels. They learned from the horse armor and stepped up their game ten fold.

          • reply
            February 9, 2010 6:55 AM

            I'm definitely not saying that DLC can't be done poorly - horse armor, indeed - I am saying you don't throw the entire concept out the window as a result of the shitty ones, as there are many good reasons to have DLC and many great ways to do it. As for DLC pricing, those price points are often set by the CONSOLE PLATFORM, not by the publisher; they often have a minimum pricing scheme that you can't buck because the console maker wants to recover their store costs, take some loot for themselves and also pay for their download bandwidth. "Getting you're money's worth" is one of the most unreliable concepts out there, everyone has a different opinion about the worth of something.

            There will be DLC that is "poor value"; there are also a hell of a lot of boxed, shrinkwrapped games on the shelf that are a poor value for your money!

            I don't see the storage issues as being a good argument for features left out. Using constrained storage space is a really typical, normal piece of game design that has been around since the dawn of the pen-and-paper RPG, it forces you to make dynamic and interesting choices about what to carry and what to leave behind. Nothing was worse than being at the bottom of a dungeon and finding a golden throne that no one could carry out without shedding their armor and shield - damn DM! - and that tension is natural in Borderlands as it is in many other games without stash boxes or storage. Trying to second-guess the developers and designers isn't going to be a constructive way to work on this argument, for anyone, because it just can't be done. But yeah, there will be bad DLC, absolutely, and there will be abuses of those systems by some publishers.

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          February 9, 2010 7:25 AM

          Well, let's lay them out and look at them:

          Sequel - oldest, most reliable form of content expansion; keep the same universe, many of the same rules and constraints, and just add more content and story. See: Halo series. Problems: 2-3 years between these, enough time for competitors to gain ground, price models to shift and even platforms to change.

          Expansion Pack - actually not new at all, quite old; the original DOOM had expansions, as did the sequel, and this was a common way to make money in the "shareware" realm back in the day. People's expectation of the expansion pack is in line with Brood War, an extension of the original that does NOT significantly change the gameplay (while a sequel might). Problems: still 1 to 2 years after the original title. These have often been free - see: Unreal Tournament series, the tons of Burnout Paradise free additions, new Maps for Battlefield series, etc.

          "Episodes" - these are tough to talk about, because this concept of releasing a game in "chapters" died out of the gate when one of the major proponents of it, Valve, decided to take 2 years between chapters, turning them back into expansions. The only successful "episodic" releases have been the Sam & Max series from Telltale, and even they are tweaking the model and bundling episodes into a single box copy. In general this one never found a common ground.

          DLC - the significant difference here is that DLC is often not story or content, but bling. People pay for bling all the freaking time IRL; what is the objection to people paying for it in a digital realm? The primary problem here is that many of you are expecting DLC to BE expansion packs or sequels, but the publisher and developer see it as bling, non-essential stuff you just get for fun because you've got an extra twenty burning a hole in your pocket. People pay $2000 to get "racing stripes" on their frakking MINI Cooper, who the frak cares if they blow $10.00 on a digital dog and a pimp hat for their XBLA avatar?

    • reply
      February 9, 2010 12:53 AM

      If its already on the disc then its a good bet it was a part of the game they decided to hide behind a paywall for sheer profit.

      The ME2 DLC like Zaeed is odd, though.

      I'd rather see paid dlc come out at least a month after the game shipped, with any day 0 stuff being free with a one-time code. At least that way it feels as if you arent being sold parts of the game that were removed, even if that isnt actually the case.

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      February 9, 2010 6:13 AM

      let me tell you why I hate DLC and why its made me buy 90% of my games used (the other 10% are pc games).

      I paid $80 for the street fighter collectors ed and yet i still get nickel and dimed for DLC costumes?
      which are already on the game?

      Resident Evil multiplayer? also on cd.
      Horse armor? fuck that.


      so while DLC can be good, the only good example I can think off, is Fallout 3 and its dlc.

      Every game seems to have dlc nowdays and very few is actually worth it.

    • reply
      February 9, 2010 6:26 AM

      IMO, DLC released within the first month after release should be free.

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